U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sharply criticized Russia's approach to Georgia and Moldova in an address to this week's meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in the Dutch city of Maastricht. Russia refused to endorse the final communique drawn up by the 54 other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and it was eventually issued as a personal statement by the outgoing OSCE chairman, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Despite the tone of Powell's comments, diplomats say they will not lead to a rift between the United States and Russia.
Munich, 3 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- It was among the sharpest criticisms of Russian foreign policy the United States has made in recent years before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell focused on Russia's failure to meet commitments to withdraw military forces from Moldova and close down two of its bases in Georgia. He said Russia's failure to do so was delaying the entry into force of the 1999 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).
Powell's comments were echoed in the OSCE communique drawn up by the other 54 members of OSCE but rejected by Russia.
In his speech, Powell welcomed Georgia's "Revolution of Roses" and pointedly said the international community should do all it could to support Georgia's territorial integrity and not support breakaway regions. Earlier in the conference, Georgia's acting president, Nino Burjanadze, had sharply criticized Russia for holding talks with the leaders of the Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjaria regions. The talks took place over six days.
"The international community should do everything possible to support Georgia's territorial integrity throughout and beyond the election process. No support should be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia's territorial integrity," Powell said.
The OSCE document that was not accepted by Russia also committed the OSCE to the territorial integrity of Georgia. It said positive developments in Georgia would contribute to peace and stability in the whole of the South Caucasus.
The OSCE document also supported the efforts of the United Nations to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the conflict with the Abkhazia region, which broke away in August 1992. The document said the OSCE was ready to help promote an agreement on the return of refugees and displaced persons.
Both Powell and the OSCE document urged Russia to honor an agreement to close some of its military bases in Georgia. A Russian-Georgian protocol signed in 1999 envisaged that two Russian bases would be closed by July 2001 and others would be closed later. However, Russia has been slow to implement it.
In his speech to the conference Powell urged Russia and Georgia to resolve the problem. The OSCE statement said "most" of the foreign ministers -- that is, all except Russia -- called for an early agreement on closing the Russian military bases.
In regard to Moldova, the U.S. Secretary of State criticized Russia for failing to honor the commitment it made at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999 to withdraw all its forces and military equipment from the breakaway territory of Transdniester. Russia says it has withdrawn much of the military equipment but will not meet the latest deadline, which expires at the end of this month. Powell made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the delay.
"I had hoped today to welcome Russia's fulfillment of its 1999 Istanbul commitments to completely withdraw its forces from Moldova. It appears that Russia will not meet the already-extended 31 December deadline. That is a setback -- although some progress has been made," Powell said.
Powell also indirectly criticized Russia's recent private effort to negotiate a settlement between Moldova and Transdniester. Russia is one of the countries that has been working with the OSCE since 1993 to find a settlement but it did not inform the OSCE of its individual initiative. OSCE first learned of the move when Moscow announced in November that it had reached agreement with both Moldova and Transdniester. The Russian initiative is now in disarray because the Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin refused to sign it.
Powell did not criticize Russia directly but strongly emphasized that the negotiations on Transdniester should take place only within the OSCE framework and with the participation of the United States and Ukraine as well as Russia.
"In the days prior to our meeting, many parties intensified their efforts to encourage a political settlement to the Transdniester problem. Negotiations should continue within the mediation structure coordinated among the OSCE, the Russian Federation and Ukraine to best help the parties search for a settlement which will be viable, stable, and promote the security and well-being of Moldova and of the region as a whole," Powell said.
At a press briefing, Russian delegation leader, Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizov was asked why Moscow objected to the statements in the proposed final document about withdrawing its armed forces from Georgia and Transdniester. He said that in Russia's view these agreements concerned only equipment deployed under international treaties. He said these forces were withdrawn by the Russian Federation at the end of 2001 in compliance with the treaty.
Chizov said the remaining Russian equipment in Georgia and Transdniester was there under bilateral agreements made outside the OSCE. He said Russia's position was that it would withdraw the forces when the conditions were ripe but that was not yet the case.
Chizov was also asked if he was taken aback by the criticisms of the U.S. Secretary of State. He told the press conference he did not find them exceptionally critical.
U.S. diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity also said they doubted whether Powell's remarks would disturb relations with Moscow.
OSCE officials said Russia's boycott of the final statement means that it is not accepted as a formal OSCE document. They said similar situations had occurred at OSCE conferences in the past. One described Russia's failure to sign onto the Maastricht document as "unfortunate but not worrying. The important thing is that these issues were discussed."